On January 11th, 2016 the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFDoE) will hold its Policy Committee meeting , to review the rules about which pesticides may be used on city-owned properties (the “reduced risk” list). If pesticide use in our public parks worries you, this will be an opportunity to comment. The meeting is in in City Hall room 421, at 5 p.m. on January 11th 2016.
We think the SF DoE has been attempting to reduce pesticide use. Nevertheless, we still have concerns, which we addressed in a series of recent articles (click on the titles to read the articles).
THE NATURAL AREAS PROBLEM
SF Recreation and Parks Department continues to use hazardous pesticides such as Roundup (glyphosate), Garlon (triclopyr), Stalker (imazapyr) and Milestone (amino-pyralid) – especially in areas managed by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). These are all Tier II (More Hazardous) or Tier I (Most Hazardous) pesticides. NAP is the most frequent user of Garlon, primarily against yellow oxalis.
The proposed new guidelines will still permit Natural Areas to use Tier I pesticides.
In a discussion papers for the meeting, Natural Areas are given the highest priority for toxic pesticide use – on par with airports, golf courses, and inaccessible roadway medians. You can see that document here: justifying toxic herbicide use 2016.
The argument is that its risk is low: “for public due to inaccessibility, dispersal of treatments; low for environment due to dispersed treatments.” This is not true: The Natural Areas are widely used by joggers, hikers, and families with children and pets. Many dog-play areas are in natural areas. And many areas are repeatedly sprayed. Regular users of the parks see pesticide notices quite often. And much of the spraying is on slopes where the pesticides can contaminate watersheds and communities. Many of them are both persistent and mobile in the soil.
REPORT ON EARLIER MEETING IN DECEMBER 2015
The January 11 meeting is the second of three annual meetings. The first, held on December 16th, 2015, was a hearing to get public comment. Nearly everyone opposed to the use of Tier I and even Tier II pesticides in our parks. (The only exception was Jake Sigg, considered the doyen of the native plant movement in San Francisco, who wanted fewer restrictions. Of which more later.)
The meeting ran two and a half hours. An audio recording of the meeting is HERE.
SF DoE made a presentation showing that pesticide use had dropped sharply since 1992, when Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was first implemented. They admitted that their early data may not be complete or accurate, and recent data is much better.
- Roundup has been changed to a Tier I (Most Hazardous) rating from Tier II (More Hazardous).
- They’re reducing Roundup amounts per application by changing to a new type of sprayer nozzle that gives better coverage and more targeting.
- SFRPD is working to reduce usage of Garlon, routinely used by the Natural Areas Program against oxalis, (the pretty yellow flower that children love to nibble). (It’s even more toxic than Roundup.) They noted that a new surfactant should allow them to use less Garlon, and anyway, there was now less oxalis to fight. [However, the very next day, Mount Davidson was being sprayed with Garlon for oxalis.]
- SF DoE is no longer permitting any use of neonicotinoids (“Neo-nics”), a kind of pesticide that is dangerous to bees and possibly other insect life.
- No pesticide use within 15 feet of paths, except for poison oak and hazardous trees.
- No Tier I pesticide for strictly cosmetic use, or on playgrounds.
- Spikes in pesticide usages (e.g. SF RPD’s spike in 2013) are related to golf tournaments. SF DoE is working to reduce Harding Park’s usage of pesticides. [Harding Park Golf Course, managed under contract by the PGA Tour, uses a lot of pesticide to stay “tournament ready.”]
PUBLIC COMMENT AT THE DECEMBER 2015 HEARING
There was extensive public comment at the hearing. The main themes:
1) Tier I pesticides should not be used in public parks. “I would feel safer for myself, my children, my pets if we just didn’t use pesticides,” said one speaker. Many of the speakers also felt Tier II pesticides should be prohibited as well. Said another: “Quit using my tax dollars to poison me and my pets.” Another speaker, who is a long-term resident of the city and an African-American community activist talked about the health hazards of pesticide use and said, “San Francisco is better than this. We’re not living up to what we have been, what we are.” A speaker who is HIV-positive and has a beautiful golden retriever service dog, said, “I worry about my health and my dog’s health. I live down in Mission Bay, where they spray Aquamaster all the time. Monsanto’s own website says dogs should not be allowed in contact with glyphosate.” Another speaker attributed her dog’s death to Roundup.
Only one speaker favored more pesticide. Jake Sigg, trivializing the risks of pesticides in pursuit of open grasslands, said: “I wish I’d brought pictures of San Bruno Mountain where they sprayed whole mountainsides of oxalis.” He favored fewer restrictions on their use: “I hate to hear all this unwarranted fear about herbicides. I was a gardener all my life, and I’ve used herbicides and I’m 88 now. I’ve used a lot of them, and it would seem if they’re really that bad I would have problems now! Requiring gardeners to wear Tyvek suits sends the wrong message, it’s like you’re applying some dangerous chemical. Most of these herbicides are not that dangerous.”
2) Better notices are needed. Pesticide applications should be prominently noted both before and after pesticides use. However, the notices are on trails or on the perimeter of the park, making it impossible to know where exactly they have been applied. Other times, the notices are inconspicuous. One commenter – who is an HIV survivor and regularly walks in parks with his service dog, a golden retriever – said he only realized pesticides were being used when he actually saw workers spraying. The notice was inconspicuously posted on a pole that bore dog-control notices.
3) Which plants are of value to the community? The new guidelines provide for pesticide use to kill plants that threaten plants “of value to the community.” This seemed to imply native plants under the Natural Areas Program. But many non-native plants like blackberry and oxalis are valued by the community while many native plant are not. How can the SF DoE accept claims from native plant advocates that their preferences override others’ values? “What is the community and who decides?” asked one speaker.
4) Enforcement: What are the repercussions for abusing or violating guidelines? Commenters were skeptical about monitoring or enforcement. There were apparently no consequences for violating pesticide use guidelines. One speaker said she was told that pesticide use in Natural Areas was limited spot application – but then she saw recent video of a worker spraying blackberry bushes along a wide area of trail. Another reported seeing pesticide spraying along the banks of Mission Creek and in parks where young children practice soccer. “Nothing is going to change with new guidelines – 20 different land managers will apply it different. How can you stop someone from misusing the guidelines? What are the repercussions when there’s abuse?”
Some of the other comments:
- The 15-foot rule is not enough. No one knows what a designated trail is – parks are full of social trails that people use all the time. Also people do not stay on trails – they explore, especially kids.
- The playground rule isn’t enough. What’s the difference between a playground and a park when kids play in both places? And we want kids to play outdoors in the parks.
- SFRPD is not credible about environmental responsibilities. For example, the Natural Areas Program is in full swing despite EIR not yet certified.
- Anti-tree bias. When the PUC asked for an exemption to treat eucalyptus trees with a chemical (Bonide Sucker-Punch) to prevent suckering after a stem was removed because it intruded in the right of way, SF DoE has instead asked PUC to remove the entire tree and then treat the stump with toxic herbicides to poison its root system. “Why is SF DoE encouraging the complete destruction of eucalyptus trees when only some of their branches are in the way?“
- SF DoE and the IPM program has done a good job reducing rodenticide use, and thus the poisoning of predators who feed on poisoned rodents. When rat poison must be used for human safety, procedures should be in place to collect the poisoned rodents.
- Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides. One speaker said: “Today I went with my child’s nursery school, about thirty 3- and 4-year-olds walking through Glen Canyon, and every single one of those kids was picking sourgrass [oxalis] and eating it.” What should have been an interaction bringing the children closer to nature instead made her nervous because she was worried about Garlon on the oxalis.
- People strongly oppose pesticide use. A petition against toxic pesticides in our parks now has over 11,000 signatures. [You can sign it HERE if you have not already done so.]
- Exemptions for “needed objectives” – e.g. Natural Areas – are the problem. Deploying hundreds of workers is not the solution. We need to change the objectives. While 88-year-old Jake Sigg has not been affected by pesticides, others may be adversely affected depending on age, exposure, and chemical sensitivities. NAP applies Tier I and Tier II pesticides on 36 different species of plants. Natural areas cover over 1000 acres.
- Because of kikuyu weed in Mission Bay, workers spray pesticides on the banks of Mission Creek, a place with abundant birdlife, and in the park close to paths and play areas. This is a place where 4 year-olds learn soccer.
- Though it’s stated that pesticides are used as a “last resort” – “Last resort” happens all the time, with over 100 applications.
- It’s not just Roundup (glyphosate) which is a problem. Garlon (triclopyr) is even more toxic. Stalker/ Polaris (imazapyr) persists for over a year, and moves around in the soil. Milestone (aminopyralid) is so persistent that if an animal eats it and poops it out, the poop still contains active herbicide. All these herbicides are used by the Natural Areas Program.
- No exemptions are needed. They should prohibit the use of Tier I and Tier II. Sharp Park doesn’t use herbicides even on poison oak. Medians can be dealt with by closing a lane of traffic.
- Contractors are allowed to experiment with new chemicals – but this should be done with extreme caution.
- The land managers should co-ordinate with park users before applying herbicides. In 2010 a Clapper Rail – a federally endangered waterbird [now known as the Ridgeway’s Rail] – showed up in Heron’s Head park. A year later, 2011, mated and produced two chicks that became juveniles. Nine months later, with no discussion with park users or the birding community, imazapyr was sprayed to remove cordgrass – and then the Clapper Rail was gone. [The Million Trees blog did a story about this, HERE ]
- NAP sprays imazapyr under trees – which would damage them – despite the contrary instructions from the company itself. Either NAP is not obliged to follow company instructions, or they actually want to damage the trees – much like when they girdled thousands of trees in San Francisco.
- SF DoE must recognize the stories of people here, they’re heart-breaking: The bird that disappeared, the dog that died, the kids that nibble on oxalis.
- Permaculture and organic solutions are preferable. A apeaker’s ranch property had rattlesnakes – but she brought in feral cats, which ate the rodents, and the rattlesnakes disappeared. She didn’t need traps or poisons.
- Mount Davidson is worse since since Natural Areas Program took over with pesticide spraying and habitat destruction. Natural Areas should be wild and natural – but NAP is trying to turn them into Native Gardens. The roof of the Cal Academy is a native plant garden – which is irrigated, weeded, replanted. Native Plant gardens are not sustainable without intensive gardening, and the use of poisons.
- Poisons are sprayed without regard to health of parkgoers, wildlife. Blackberries are being sprayed, though they’re eaten by people and also by wildlife.
- A few speakers supported the NAP. One said that they supported more wildlife. Jake Sigg said, “People love the Natural Areas Program, they like the open areas for views and kite-flying.” (Of course, if people stay on the designated trails as the NAP wants, they cannot fly kites. People do love the Natural Areas. They just dislike the Natural Areas Program, with its tree-felling and habitat destruction, regular use of toxic herbicides, access restrictions, and use of our tax dollars to do these things.)
THE PROBLEMS OF NATURAL AREAS PROGRAM
NAP is one of the largest users of Tier I pesticides in the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) .
NAP is a regular user of Garlon (triclopyr), a pesticide that is even more toxic than glyphosate (Roundup). It uses it mainly on oxalis, which is both pointless and dangerous. It’s a plant that is very popular with children. As Jill Fehrenbacher pointed out, preschoolers frequently nibble on oxalis for its sour taste.
Kevin Woolen of SFRPD said they would be reducing their use of Garlon using a new surfactant – and that there was less oxalis this year perhaps because of prior years’ spraying. However the very next day, signs on Mount Davidson indicated that Garlon was sprayed on oxalis.
It claims to be for “spot treatment” but since oxalis is a spreading ground cover, we do not understand how this is possible.
NAP also uses Roundup (glyphosate) on a wide variety of plants. In fact, in the time we’ve been following the issue, NAP has attacked over 30 different species of “invasive” plants with Tier I and Tier II herbicides.
There’s only one good way to reduce pesticide use: To change the management objectives for which these pesticides are used. There is no reason to kill oxalis with toxic herbicides, or to use Tier I and Tier II herbicides in a futile effort to create native plant gardens.
WHAT ABOUT THE GOLF COURSE?
Whenever we address pesticide use by NAP, someone raises the issue of golf. Only Harding Park routinely uses pesticides. (Other city golf courses use them less than once a year – or not at all.) Harding is not managed by SFRPD, but under contract by the PGA Tour, which requires herbicide use to keep its fairways tournament ready.
We are not as concerned about this as we are about the Natural Areas. Herbicide use is concentrated on the greens, which are not accessible to children or pets.The surrounding vegetation is better habitat, so wildlife use of the fairways is limited. Golfers can choose to play a different course where chemicals are not usual like Sharp Park which uses none at all.
There are concerns, of course, and we appreciate the SF DoE attempts to reduce pesticide use there. The golf course is beside Lake Merced, which could be affected by pesticide runoffs. The lake attracts wildlife, and hosts nesting cormorants and herons. These chemicals could have adverse effects.
CAN SAN FRANCISCO DO BETTER?
Many cities are working on eliminating the use of glyphosate (Roundup) or all synthetic pesticides in their public parks and in some cases, even on private property. Some examples:
- Encinitas, California has banned Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides in public parks. It has also got its first “organic park” where no pesticides are permitted except organic ones. Ironically, it’s called Glen Park and contrasts with our own Glen Park where a lot of Tier I pesticides have been used.
- Boulder, CO has stopped using Roundup and is trying to phase out synthetic pesticides.
Portland, Maine: “Portland officials are talking about passing an ordinance that would further limit or ban the city’s use of pesticides and possibly extend it to private use.”
- Takoma Park (suburb of Washington DC): “While a handful of cities in the country have banned certain pesticides for use on public lands, Takoma Park’s City Council charted new territory by restricting what residents can use on their own lawns.”
- Rotterdam, Nederlands: Dutch City of Rotterdam Bans Monsanto Glyphosate Roundup Herbicide
- Menlo Park, 4 parks: Menlo Park: City bans spraying of herbicides in four parks
- Fairfax, CA: Fairfax law forbids property owners from spraying herbicides and pesticides unless they first notify their neighbors. And Belvedere doesn’t spray herbicides in its public park.
- Barcelona, Spain: Barcelona bans glyphosate in public parks
People are becoming much more conscious of the risk of pesticides, to adults but even more to children. From an article that dates back to 2001: “Dr. William Rothman of Belvedere, a retired physician, has voiced concerns about the effects on children of popular herbicides such as Roundup, the world’s most popular weed-killer. ‘Children crawl on the ground and put things in their mouth. They’re exposed to more pesticides than adults,’ Rothman said. ‘They have fewer cells in their body, so if they’re exposed to a toxic chemical, they have a greater concentration of it in their bodies. Their cells are growing, so their cells tend to divide more. The cells that multiply more quickly in the body are more susceptible to toxins.'”
There is, in fact, a Roundup cancer lawyer…. “The Schmidt Firm, PLLC is currently [in November 2015] accepting Roundup induced injury cases in all 50 states.”
OUR CALL: NO PESTICIDES IN OUR PARKS
The San Francisco Forest Alliance calls on the city to ban synthetic pesticides in public parks – and especially in Natural Areas, which are places where families recreate, people hike or bike or explore and harvest wild berries and foods, and wildlife abounds. Our parks are no place for pesticides.